I wrote an original essay for every 2020-2021 UChicago Prompt. Here you go.

2020-21 UChicago Supplement

Question 1 (Required)

How does the University of Chicago, as you know it now, satisfy your desire for a particular kind of learning, community, and future? Please address with some specificity your own wishes and how they relate to UChicago.

Doesn’t. Too cold. Zero interest in banking.

Question 2: Extended Essay (Required; Choose one)

Essay Option 1

Who does Sally sell her seashells to? How much wood can a woodchuck really chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood? Pick a favorite tongue twister (either originally in English or translated from another language) and consider a resolution to its conundrum using the method of your choice. Math, philosophy, linguistics… it’s all up to you (or your woodchuck).

Fuzzy Wuzzy was a bear. Fuzzy Wuzzy had no hair. Fuzzy Wuzzy wasn’t fuzzy, was he?

He absolutely could still be fuzzy. And for you to imply he’s not for such reasons isn’t an indictment on his character: It’s an indictment on yours.

Fuzzy doesn’t mean “hairy”. Fuzzy is a description: a thing people think about you. That they feel about you. It’s like saying that because Fuzzy Wuzzy had no hair, he obviously wasn’t charismatic.

As a kid, I would wake up early to watch the owl who lived in our tallest tree circle the skies and then dive bomb to absolute merc some poor rat 200 feet below. I would jump and clap and be so excited. I felt like he was showing off because I was there. That he wanted to impress me. I named him Jeffery and cared about him deeply. He was fuzzy. If a hungry, murderous bird could be fuzzy, then a furless bear absolutely can be, too.

I own the fuzziest cat on Earth. Her name’s Penny and she’s a domestic shorthair. I got her the earliest possible point I could, which was two days after her spade procedure. They basically shave the entire bottom of the cat to do it, so I was handed an 8-week kitten that looked like a Chia Pet. I’d always had cats growing up, but they always liked my mom or my sisters more than me. To have my little shaved girl come and sit on my lap and be my buddy made me fall for her so hard immediately.

Her hair grew back, but she could still look exactly the same to this day, and I’d feel exactly the same way about her. Penelope Culkin is fuzzy as hell, and don’t you forget it.

So I guess my answer is: I don’t know if Fuzzy Wuzzy is fuzzy or not. And neither do you. For I look to a day when a bear will not be judged by the length of their fur, but by the content of their character.

EDIT: Dude, I don’t care that I put this up eight hours ago. This just hit me and I’m freaking out. No shit Fuzzy Wuzzy had no hair. HE’S A BEAR.

Essay Option 2

What can actually be divided by zero?

Zero. Zero can absolutely be divided by zero. And maybe it equals one. Or also zero. Or maybe infinity. Or maybe all three. I don’t know. But you absolutely can do it, and I will never let this go.

My favorite TVTropes page is “Writers cannot do math”. It’s a general concept for whenever a foolhardy English major is tasked with writing about an advanced field of study he does not understand. If you’ve ever heard a “hacker” talk about needing to “enhance” a “computer” to “do something,” you’ve seen this trope in action.

(You’ve also seen this trope in action if you were in my AP Stats test room in 2008. The one in which I scored a 1 and, instead of answering the last question, wrote a full-page essay apologizing to the grader for having to witness what I had done and explaining why math was obviously not the right career path for me going forward. I have always been me.)

Where I run into trouble these days is with my job. I’m a college admissions consultant. I mostly work with elite students trying to get into the very best schools in America. A lot of those students are interested in fields like Computer Science, Math, Engineering, Pre-Med, or Pre-Law. And these kids are the real deal. I have no doubt in my mind that many of them could jump right to grad school or working and be fine. Undergrad is merely a technicality.

But to get into undergrad, they have to write essays. And that’s where I come in. I help them outline their thoughts and then edit the work after they’ve written it. It’s a cool job, except that 70% of the time, I have no idea what they are talking about.

Parents pay me a lot for what I do, and there is no shortage of alternative consultants for them to pick instead. Part of getting chosen is looking the part: I wear fun college shirts and nice jeans and get my haircut at a salon. I’ve picked up hobbies like piano and worked on my physique. I talk openly about my life but with an air of positivity and determination that makes me seem like I have so much more figured out than I actually do. I have essentially transformed myself into the type of person who could get into Stanford. Because it’s the only way to make it seem like I could do it for them, too.

So then, when a student mentions some coding competition or advanced physics formula to me, I have to play ball. I have to bluff that I totally know what they’re talking about, only to frantically Google the topic when they go to the bathroom. It sucks, but it feels necessary. It’s also forced me to learn piano, get in shape, update my wardrobe, write more, be funny and positive, and learn as much as I can about as many topics as possible.

And those are things that I know can’t be divided by zero.

I know that’s lame and makes no sense; I’m really bad at math.

Essay Option 3

The seven liberal arts in antiquity consisted of the Quadrivium — astronomy, mathematics, geometry, and music — and the Trivium — rhetoric, grammar, and logic. Describe your own take on the Quadrivium or the Trivium. What do you think is essential for everyone to know?

I’m a lot more adept at Trivium—being I’m a professional writer who also debates and also thinks about things sometimes. I’d like to focus on the writing aspect because there absolutely is one thing I’d like people to know:

The only way to get better at writing is to write.

I consider writing a trade. I’m closer to a pipe-fitter than I am a philosopher. I’ve also been writing and publishing work on the internet since I was 14. You can find my “first mixtape” if you want. Go to Gamefaqs.com and search for “The Sims Bustin’ Out”. Then click “guide” by the Gamecube version and click the second link written by “baubeta”

I am so sorry.

If you do unfortunately read it, you’ll find that many of the style and flavor elements are shockingly similar to how I write today. What is different is in the quality of prose, grammar, spelling, and everything else that makes good writing not what that is.

If you then dig out other works, like my five articles for Cracked.com posted when I was 21 under the pseudonym “Matthew Culkin,” you’ll see a marked improvement. But even in those pieces, I can’t help but spot inconsistencies with pace. Hell, go to my Website (CollegeWithMattie.com! Become a Zoomer today!) and read the stuff I published 10 months ago. I do not think it is as good as what I’m writing today.

So, it’s with that knowledge I get more than a bit annoyed whenever someone says, You want to write better? What you need is TO READ.

No. You don’t. You need to write, homeboy.

I’ve beaten over 1,000 video games. Can’t make one! Eaten tens of thousands of meals. Can’t cook shit!

There is absolutely nothing wrong with reading–huge fan–but it does not make you a better writer. It just doesn’t. It so totally doesn’t why do people say reading helps you write it doesn’t.

My guess is it relates to why there are parents out there who think they could do my job for me if they just had the time. It’s also why writers don’t get paid food-wages unless they’re college consultants and/or famous. I think people assume high-level writing is much easier than it actually is.

Everyone writes, so being great at it seems like a short hop. But everyone drives, too, and you don’t hear Nascar Drivers telling each other they need to watch the Fast and Furious movies more. That hubris is what leads to the concept that if you want to write like Hemmingway, all you have to do is read his stuff, and you’ll have it all figured out. Short sentences. Got it.

But you won’t. For the same reason I can’t watch a bunch of Christoper Nolan films and suddenly be ready to rock a stage camera. I have been pushing myself as a writer for fifteen years, and I truly believe it is what I was put on Earth to do. I put my absolute A-game into everything I publish because I want people to understand I can go and that I do go. I think I am awesome at writing, and I know the endless mountains containing millions of click-clack words I have scaled to get where I am. So I’m sorry if I come off like a pretentious dick when opining that if you’re now 27 and haven’t written anything worth reading up until this point, you might need to do a bit more than read Game of Thrones again to step to my level.

The best reading will get you is ideas. I steal stuff I write all the time. But that comes naturally from reading the content I like and then forgetting that my hot takes someone else actually came up with. But even so, I then repurpose those stolen takes with my crafted sense of style and structure, making them my own. If you steal something but then paint it super nicely, doesn’t it feel less stolen?

So go write. Write whatever the hell you want. Then get as much feedback as possible and then use that feedback to write better next time. Install Grammarly Premium, and use it religiously until passive tense makes you anemic. Instead of reading your favorite author, Google “author + writing analysis” and learn why he or she is so great. Elite writing is built every bit as much as it is grown. Learn the blocks and tools your heroes used, and then consider ways you could take those tokens for a spin. Figure out how to “close read” texts and do it, a lot. Don’t you dare tell me this counts as reading; it’s studying. Also, that advice is all bullshit because ALL I DID TO GET AS GOOD AS I AM AT WRITING WAS WRITEWRITEWRITE ALL THE GODDAMN TIME FOREVER AND ALSO GRAMMARLY PREMIUM HELPED ME SO MUCH TYTY AND ALSO I STUDIED THE BLADE.

Please, I want you to git gud at rite. Never stop writing-writing-writing—and always be striving to write better today than you wrote before. Then go read something fun to celebrate.

Essay Option 4

Subway maps, evolutionary trees, Lewis diagrams. Each of these schematics tells the relationships and stories of their component parts. Reimagine a map, diagram, or chart. If your work is largely or exclusively visual, please include a cartographer’s key of at least 300 words to help us best understand your creation.

That entire last essay was egotistical delusion. All I’ve ever done is shamelessly rip off Bill Simmons and Drew Magary but make it about whatever dumb topic I’m hyperfocused on that week instead of sports.

And that’s something I’ll never be able to divide by zero.

—Inspired by Maximilian Site, Class of 2020

Essay Option 5

“Do you feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?” – Eleanor Roosevelt. Misattribute a famous quote and explore the implications of doing so.

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent” – Clint Eastwood

The implication is that I’m a smartass.

Wait, here’s another

“Luke, I am your father” – Rosalynne Carter

There. I matched another first lady with another movie quote that isn’t actually the line from the movie. Look it up. Friggin UChicago got Mandella’d on their own supplement. HOW EMBARRASSING.

This prompt blows. I hope you didn’t answer this one, kids. Max should have his diploma revoked.

—Inspired by Chris Davey, AB’13

Essay Option 6

Engineer George de Mestral got frustrated with burrs stuck to his dog’s fur and applied the same mechanic to create Velcro. Scientist Percy Lebaron Spencer found a melted chocolate bar in his magnetron lab and discovered microwave cooking. Dye-works owner Jean Baptiste Jolly found his tablecloth clean after a kerosene lamp was knocked over on it, consequently shaping the future of dry cleaning. Describe a creative or interesting solution, and then find the problem that it solves.

Writer Mattie Culkin published a dozen overwrought diary entries to Reddit and skipped seven years of having to build a college consulting career.

Here is how I describe my brain: Ten trillion lightning bolts, all desperately trying to escape the jar I happened to catch them in.

If I don’t write, I go insane. I mean it. I do write, and I’m still half-way there. I get these ideas in my head, and they bounce around like screeching demons. The easy release valve is to tell people about them. That’s what I do with my students instead of doing the work they’re paying me for. I go on long, aimless tangents about whatever is in my brain at that moment. All day, student by student, over and over. Sometimes I apologize for wasting their time. They always reply:

It’s OK. What you said is pretty interesting.

Is it?

IS IT?

Because I have no idea. These ideas bounce around all day and then I Google them to see if I accidentally stole them from someone else and I didn’t but that makes me like the idea less because had I stolen it I’d at least know it was worth stealing. These bolts are mine, and I’m stuck in this fucking jar with them until I get them out.

So I write. And I publish. And I wait six hours for a moderator to actually publish. And I read every single comment trying to know if anything I put down was even good. Then I read it:

This was so insightful.

I feel my jaw loosen. My eyes quiet. OK. Cool. She said the I-word. It’s always a she. That’s the magic word she uses when my shit was worth the 15 hours awake and 18 hours not asleep I spent to summon it here. I have zero insight into how I am insightful. I have literally zero memories of writing anything ever. My brain turns off; my fingers turn on; lightning bolts shatter through glass and strike downward into mechanical keys where they may finally lay to rest; I wake up with half-ideas or a piece that’s gotten dozens to treat their neurological health or a three-armed starfish wizard named Pat.

Or. Some girl in Rhode Island with 71 karma and 5 upvotes telling me I’m insightful.

I got one! I was insightful, guys 🙂

I’M INSIGHTFUL. It’s the only word that people tell me about my writing that I both believe and makes me feel like I’m doing something of meaning with my life. I’m never insightful when I talk. I’m only interesting, which is bullshit. But then, when I publish something that made someone feel something different, I get to see my favorite word again.

Insightful. Insightful. I wouldn’t trade that praise for all the depressed acorns in the world.

I would still be writing here if I never made a single dollar from it. It’s serendipitous that I have. I love sharing my work with others, and I love providing insight that affects you in a way that makes your life a little bit better, however that might be.

And that is something that can be divided by

– Mattie

Because I am not a zero.

 

Want more?  Check out my FREE strategy guide on the “Why College” essay.

 

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(This piece won the 2020 r/applyingtocollege acorn award for most helpful post! It’s probably the most important thing I’ve ever written. Half-ideas is such fire omg.)

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